Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Cry Them A River


They're able to make this startling claim with impressively straight facesbecause the proposed plant will replace an aging sixties cement plant St.Lawrence owns on the other side of the Hudson in Catskill, New York, whichleaves something to be desired by today's more exacting air-pollutionstandards.

"I thought this was a no-brainer when we first started," says Dan Odescalchi,a St. Lawrence public-relations consultant. "It would be a net environmentalbenefit and stabilize the local economy."

"St. Lawrence Cement felt they were coming into a Petticoat Junction-typecounty where they'd be welcome just because they have a shiny logo,"contends Patrick Manning, the area's state assemblyman. "But there are somepeople who felt strongly about having their side heard."

Petticoat Junction, however, never looked like Midwood. "The conversation isso emotional and heated," observes Rudy Wurlitzer, a screenwriter and guestat the party. "It's become a resentment of new people. It's a classstruggle."

Wurlitzer has tried to fathom the local support for the project. By thecompany's own admission, he says, the new $330 million facility (payingproperty tax on $25 million) will generate virtually no new jobs, sincethey'll simply move their existing work force from the old plant across theriver to the new one.

"They have faith in the patriarchal corporate entity," he says, describingthe company's nonstop butterflies-and-flowers ad campaign in the local newspapers as "Orwellian."

However, after ticking off some of the things St. Lawrence has done to winthe locals' affections -- supporting the town Little League team and a localtheater troupe, constructing a pavilion at the new municipal park, andthrowing barbecues and picnics -- Wurlitzer pauses to examine the guests atDavidson's. "They're both, in terms of class structures, equally rigid, in away," he admits.

If St. Lawrence, which is majority-owned by a Swiss multinational calledHolcim, wins the day, conveyer belts will transport raw materials two milesinland from the banks of the Hudson River to the coal-fired plant located ina limestone quarry larger than the adjacent city of Hudson. The finishedproduct will then be transported back to the river, to be loaded on giant,800-foot barges.

"There aren't very many sites in the entire Northeast where you've got thecombination of limestone and this water access," explains Phil Lochbrunner."As a matter of fact, you're kind of looking at them."

Lochbrunner, 49, who has been in the cement business since he was a junior atSMU, brushes off the environmentalists' air-pollution worries with blandbrilliance. The reason the company is fighting administrative-law judgeHelene Goldberger's ruling to hold an adjudicatory hearing -- in effect puttingthe project on trial -- isn't because they're afraid of exposing theirclean-air claims to scrutiny, he says. They simply see no point in delayingbringing a healthier environment to the public.

"This ought to be a great story," he says.

Gerry Simons, the crusty, likable chairman of Columbia County's Board ofSupervisors, agrees. Last year, the supervisors voted 22 to 1 in support ofthe plant. Simons spent 30 years working at a Kimberly-Clark factory. He'sunimpressed that 35 of 36 doctors at the local hospital, less than a milefrom the plant, issued a resolution opposing it.

"This is where the rock is," he says with a fatalistic shrug.

The supervisor aroused a certain amount of controversy when he had employeesof a publicly funded agency perform a demographic breakdown on the pro- andanti-plant petitions delivered to his office. The results apparentlyreassured him that the people, at least the people who can name theirsupervisor and vote locally, supported the plant.

"We looked at where the names came from and found most of the 'in favor'names came from locals," he reports. "The opposition names were from partlylocal, partly New York City, and partly as far away as California andOregon.

"In my town, in 1974, I had 45 farms shipping milk," he goes on. "Today Ihave five farms shipping milk. These blue-collar workers are looking forjobs. I don't think the normal blue-collar worker is probably anywhere nearas financially well-off as the weekender."

The plant's opponents warn of a massive exodus of second-home owners and aresulting plunge in real-estate values if the plant gets built. The antiquesdealers who have resurrected the city of Hudson, a mile downwind from theplant, will fail; Columbia County's blossoming art scene will wither away;the boutique farmers making award-winning goat cheeses and growing designervegetables for New York City restaurants will depart.

Marlene Brody, who raises Thoroughbred horses in Ghent, a small town tenmiles from the proposed plant (her late husband was Jerome Brody, the headof Restaurant Associates and the owner of Gallagher's Steak House and theGrand Central Oyster Bar), is one who says she'll move. She's been rallyingother horse farms in the area to fight the plant.

"How can you raise an athlete with that stuff in the air?" she wonders. "Ithink the plant would bring Hudson to what it was when we moved here in thesummer of '72. It was slumsville."

St. Lawrence hasn't been entirely able to resist the temptation to tap thelocals' resentment of the weekenders (though the plant also has asignificant number of local opponents). A mailing sent by a group calledHudson Valley Environmental/Economic Coalition, which has ties to thecompany, featured a cartoon of a fat cat clutching a wad of cash in one handand an overstuffed bank bag in the other.

"Don't let a group of millionaires from New York City deny Columbia Countygood paying jobs and a stronger economy," it said.

Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift